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Islanders break in downtown digs

Matt Moulson just misses on the Islanders' best scoring chance of the night SaturdayAP Photo

Suffer exhibition loss to Devils in first-ever NHL game in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

During a weekend that featured a bittersweet farewell to two of our city's greatest champions -- Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte -- in the Bronx, Brooklynites came Downtown en masse and in full throat Saturday night to welcome the arrival of our borough's sporting future.

An animated crowd of 14,689 filled the Barclays Center to witness the first-ever NHL game played in Brooklyn, marking the Islanders' historic initial step into the place they will officially call home beginning in 2015, if not sooner.

Though the Islanders slogged their way through a snooze-inducing 3-0 exhibition defeat to the New Jersey Devils on the admittedly not-yet-ready-for-prime-time ice surface, the buzz in the state-of-the-art arena was at a regular season pitch throughout the momentous evening.

Chants of "Let's Go Islanders!" began nearly 10 minutes before the teams lined up on the ice for the national anthem, sung beautifully by Heather Kruezman, and continued throughout the night. But Devils fans ultimately got the last laugh as netminder Cory Schneider stopped all 26 of the Islanders' shots on goal.

"It was great," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "The crowd was really into it. We just couldn't get that first [goal] to get them into it. Too bad we couldn't get the win tonight. ... When the time comes, we'll be happy to be here. Normally in preseason you don't see a crowd like that. I just wish we could have played better."

But, ultimately, this wasn't a night for scoreboard watching.

Instead, those who attended were thrilled just to take part in an event that kicked off what Brooklynites hope will be a long and strong winning tradition of NHL hockey on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.

"I'm just so thrilled that Brooklyn has a team," gushed Bay Ridge resident Peter Tracy as he and a bushel of Islander fans, both young and old, made their way to the Barclays Center via the R Train Saturday evening. "It's what I always dreamed of. Nobody thought that this would happen."

Actually, two men did.

Brooklyn Tech High School graduate and team owner Charles Wang, and the Downtown developer who built Barclays, Bruce Ratner, beamed with pride over the realization of a dream many years in the making after dropping the ceremonial first puck to kick off an otherwise non-descript preseason contest.

“When we came out there and saw the beautiful white ice and the big logo and everything, the heart went ‘ba-boom, ba-boom,’” said Wang, who has hinted that he would love to get the team here in time for the 2014-15 season, but intends to fully honor the Islanders' lease agreement at the outdated and soon-to-be renovated Nassau Coliseum until the year after next. “It’s unbelievable."

Though they were denied the celebration of a goal, Islanders fans, many of whom had followed their team from Long Island via the Long Island Rail Road, did get a thrill in the closing minutes of regulation when a couple of skirmishes broke out on the ice.

After all, it wouldn't feel like a hockey game without a fight or two.

Islanders tough guy Justin Johnson and Devils right winger Cam Jannsen threw down the gloves at 17:49 of the third period before Isles defenseman Travis Hamonic and New Jersey's Ryan Carter got into it with just 49 ticks left on the clock. The bouts sprung the near-capacity crowd to its feet before the final horn.

"The lighting was great, and the seating was good," said Hamonic, who looked none the worse for wear following his brief but furious exchange of punches with Jannsen. "It seemed like [the crowd] was really loud for us. It's going to be nice that [the fans] are going to be traveling with us [from Long Island]. This is going to be our home for a long time. We're looking forward to it."

The Islanders, who made their first foray into Brooklyn last Thursday for a pair of workouts, denied feeling any additional pressure to perform under the bright lights and glaring media spotlight that accompanied their arrival here.

But it was hard to deny, judging from the atmosphere in the building and the caravan of reporters who followed them throughout the week, that this was an atypical preseason game for the players.

"It wasn't the best performance, for sure," lamented Islanders captain John Tavares, who was one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy last season, when the team qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

"We really wanted to play well, but tonight wasn't very good,” he added. “The atmosphere was great. It gives you a feel for it. Hopefully, we can take something from it. Obviously, it's still a few years away."

What's a few more years when you've waited a lifetime to have not one, but two major pro sports franchises in Brooklyn, which will be the case when both the Nets and Islanders share the Downtown arena.

"Great building," stated Isles forward Matt Moulson, who just missed stuffing one into the net early in the third period in what was likely the team's best scoring chance of the night. "It would have been better if we gave them something to cheer about. It wasn't the outcome we wanted."

“It was awesome,” left winger Matt Martin added. “The facility and the fans were fantastic. Everybody came out to make it a great environment. Overall, it was a lot of fun. We got a taste of what it’s going to be like in a couple years and it was a great experience. It was a great thing to be a part of.”

Around the Rink: Not everyone attending Saturday night's preseason contest was thrilled about the Islanders' move to Brooklyn. Bay Ridge resident Chris Feeny, who moved here from Massapequa, L.I., in 2003, made that clear on his way to the Barclays. "They belong in the Coliseum. [Wang was loyal keeping them in New York], but again, I live here and think that they should play on Long Island," Feeny noted. "I guess it's better than them moving (to Kansas City)." ... D Hamonic, along with most of his teammates, noted that the humidity may have affected the fresh ice surface at Barclays on Saturday, though he wouldn't use it as an excuse for the Islanders' subpar effort against the Devils. "They were playing with the same ice," he said. ... Brooklyn boxer Sadam Ali was at the game Saturday to help promote his Sept. 30 bout at Barclays against Jay Krupp. ... The Nassau County Legislature on Tuesday unanimously approved County Executive Edward P. Mangano’s public-private partnership with Ratner’s Nassau Events Center (NEC) to transform the 43-year old Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and Plaza into an attractive, first-class destination for sports and family entertainment.  The agreement generates millions in economic benefit for Nassau County while creating and retaining thousands of local jobs. County Executive Mangano stated, “Together, we will truly transform the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum into a world-class arena that hosts exciting headliner concerts, the New York Islanders, Brooklyn Nets, New York Yankees' clinics, a new American Hockey League team, family shows, expositions, and other programs that generate important economic activity.  The Coliseum will serve as an economic generator for the region while creating new jobs and opportunities for our residents.” According to the agreement, the Islanders will play a minimum of six regular-season games in their former home after their eventual move to Brooklyn.

September 24, 2013 - 2:30pm


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